PARIS -- There are fewer things more pathetic than watching someone take a running dive off a high board only to end in a spectacular belly flop and still think that they're scoring a perfect 10. That's U.S. President Barack Obama right now on the issue of sanctions against Russia. It's a worrying attitude that increasingly permeates Western culture.
Europe and America supported a coup d'état against a democratically elected government and president in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, which in turn led to Russia backing a democratic vote March 16 in Crimea -- the southeast corner of the country -- to reject the coup and separate.
The West wants Russia to leggo its Eggo, and that's just not going to happen. So now here comes the pain, comrades. European sanctions are no joke. They involve the European bureaucracy, whose primary purpose is to act as a supermax prison for wallets in order to keep the socialist dream alive.
In fact, the EU bureaucracy is so efficient that it preceded itself: Even before the EU identified 21 Russian and Ukrainian individuals as the targets of economic sanctions this week -- all subject to asset freezes and travel bans -- the Cypriot newspaper Famagusta Gazette had already reported that Cyprus had launched investigations into freezing the assets of 18 Ukrainians, including President Viktor Yanukovych and his prime minister. In light of the EU bailout Cyprus received last year, and despite being a renowned home to the money of Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, it doesn't appear as if Cyprus is going to do anything to derail the Brussels-to-Nicosia gravy train, even with the country's former foreign minister, George Lillikas, calling for Cyprus to oppose sanctions against Russia.
Hot on the heels of the EU sanctions, Obama announced some of his own: Seven Russian officials and four Ukrainian officials will be barred from vacationing at Disney World or earning Bank of America loyalty points. Nor will they be permitted to visit the moon, cure cancer or ride on Cher's "Dressed to Kill" tour bus.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin responded on Twitter, the appropriate venue for retorts to hollow threats: "Comrade @BarackObama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or U didn't think about it?" Rogozin speculated that a "prankster" had drafted Obama's sanctions.
"We're making it clear that there are consequences for their actions," Obama said. But I don't think that word he keeps invoking, "consequences," means what he thinks it does.
Obama really shouldn't be toying with sanctions anyway. I don't think that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cohorts are being unreasonable in their actions thus far with respect to Ukraine. But if Obama is going to impose sanctions anyway, he needs to make them meaningful and follow through reliably, or else he should just zip it. Obama appears to use threats of "consequences" to fill conversational vacuums, as though they were the equivalent of "uhs," "ums" and "likes."
During the Ronald Reagan years, we Generation Xers grew up watching movies like "Flashdance," "Top Gun" and "Rocky." Pop culture and society's message was clear: Unless you invest the sweat capital, you aren't getting anywhere. There was no faking it, no shortcuts. Exceptionalism was earned, not granted. These days, hard work has been replaced by hot air, and Rocky Balboa has been replaced by reality-television stars whose main talent is attracting attention to themselves.
Passion is largely dead -- unless it means defending one's own ego. Putin, by contrast, has an undeniable passion for things beyond his personal self -- his country, his people -- possibly to the point of obsession. But obsession means that you're thinking about it day and night, and passion means that after all that thinking, you're ultimately driven to act. Sadly, Western leaders are no match for this.
What we're witnessing now is a culture war. Think Rocky Balboa facing off against a Kardashian. And our biggest enemy isn't Russia or any other nation -- it's within. We no longer have the heart and fire even to be who we once were.